I suppose what first intrigued me about Elena was her long jet-black hair. Despite her advancing years, she looked like a Disney princess. I imagined she had an army of little animal helpers who did the washing up at home while she sang sweet songs and brushed her tresses. On more than one occasion, I found myself lingering a little longer than was decent on her siren features. I must rein that in, I thought. Mustn't make it obvious.
Other blokes in the office had warned me. Geoff Breen had had a nasty run-in with her. He'd fantasised about her long enough before making his move, but she'd cut him dead. He was so screwed up about it. "I don't know whether I want to shag her or punch her," he'd told me. "Maybe both, I don't know. She's a right cow. Probably lesbian." We'd laughed. The problem is that Geoff doesn't understand women, not like I do. You have to be a bit smart, you know, sensitive. Now I was seeing Elena for the first time I could see what the fuss was about.
If the shimmering hair provided the initial hook, it was a curious dichotomy in her personality that held me captive. She was an unlikely alliance of disparate ideologies. She had this strict Catholic upbringing thing, evident in the slightly pinched features she projected when making a serious point; the cross and chain she allowed to drape over her clothes. Not so much Madonna, more Mother Teresa - no, Joan of Arc. Hard but still feminine, you know.
And yet more dominant was a Bohemian outlook personified by the deliciously floppy hat she tossed onto the coat-stand as she arrived at our meeting. That, and the madly erotic whiff of her musky perfume that spoke to me of something molten beneath the skin, a throbbing sexuality. It just needed the right man. I fixed the knot in my tie. Christ, was that a marijuana plant tattooed on the back of her neck?
"So", she said (looking specifically at me), "What do you think Michael? You've been very quiet."
"Oh, I completely agree", I heard myself croak. " We can't always be seen to be beating our staff with a stick."
"What?" exclaimed Martin. "You were all for cracking down hard this morning. 'Give them the dole queue if that's what they want', you said."
Elena smiled. Without taking her eyes off mine she announced, "Martin, you have to remember that changing one's mind requires one to have a mind. I think Michael's being very sensible."
She ran slender fingers through her hair and a fresh rush of perfume hit my nostrils. Did she wink at me? Clearly, I had her in the palm of my hand.
"Michael, this is bollocks,” Ian said. "We can't back down now. The press will slaughter us."
"Well, Michael and I now see eye to eye,” said Elena. "It's clear there's some mileage in talking this over."
Elena fixed her gaze on Martin and tossed her hair. I knew it was for me. I fumbled for the knot in my tie. Geoff Breen's going to be so jealous, I thought.

by Derek Dohren


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